Having reached the letter ‘D’ in our alphabetical survey we look at ‘Doors’.
Doors are both highly symbolic and completely essential for our meeting-houses. In this service we look at the doors we find in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland.
In religious art perhaps the most famous image of a door is that found in William Holman Hunt’s Light of the World:
A more ornate image than the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church doors that appear in today’s film. An image inspired by the reading used in today’s service:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
Revelation ch.3 v.20.
What meaning can we find in the doors of our churches, what can they tell us of our attitudes and faith?
Today’s service comes from Dunmurry. The pianist is Allen Yarr who plays Ye holy angels bright (Church Hymnary 39) Yield not to temptation (Church Hymnary 704) and Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, by J.S. Bach. The reading is Revelation ch.3 v.20-22.
All the doors mentioned in the video can be seen on my Non-Subscribing Presbyterian History blog beginning here: Portals to a Liberal Faith
And remember each week we will upload a new video that will go live on Sundays at 9.45 am. The services can be found on our YouTube channel. Click here to see the videos
At first sight it might seem strange to select Collecting Ladles as the subject for letter ‘C’ in our alphabetical exploration of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. But Collecting Ladles formed a fairly essential part of church life for Presbyterians in Ireland and Scotland for generations. In some places they are still in use today but often aren’t recognized by those outside the Scots-Irish Presbyterian community. The above picture perfectly illustrates their use in a church in Scotland. It is a delightful image, although the people in the pew being asked for their offering seem to display something of the modern concept of the ‘messy church’ more than anything else. But collecting ladles also lead us into questions of giving and the stewardship of resources.
Our service today is filmed in Downpatrick. Church organist Laura Patterson plays the hymns God has spoken to his people’ (Mission Praise 182) and How can I keep from singing (Hymns for Living 133/Mission Praise 1210). The reading is 2 Corinthians ch.9 v.6-8.
In this service we look at some Bibles that also give us a hint of the historical identity of Non-Subscribing Presbyterians.
All Souls’ Church, Belfast possesses a number of very interesting Bibles, including one printed by the printer James Blow in Belfast in the early eighteenth cnetury. We look at the Clough Bible of 1793 as well as Bibles that belonged to Rev Alexander Gordon and Rev James Martineau.
Clough’s old Bible was presented to the church by the first minister in the new meeting- house of 1837, some 44 years after it was printed in Edinburgh. The inscription, which is shown in today’s video, emphasises the Rev David Watson’s belief that the Non-Subscribing church represented contuity with the original congregation or, as he styled them, ‘the Members of the New Presbyterian House of Worship in Clough’.
We also look at a Bible that once belonged to the Rev Alexander Gordon. You can discover more about him in this video. But this Bible stands out because it is the Revised Version of 1881-1885 (the New Testament was brought out first in 1881) ‘Newly Edited by the American Revision Committee’ in 1901 and published in New York.
Another Bible is one that once belonged to Rev James Martineau when he was minister of Eustace Street in Dublin from 1828 to 1832. There is some information about James Martineau on this blog here. He left Eustace Street after only a short ministry but judging by the date of this Bible, 1818, and the fact that it was discovered in Ireland, it seems likely that it was one he used in this ministry in Dublin. All this and more can be found in today’s service.
Filmed in Ballee, Downpatrick and Clough Ballee organist John Strain plays the hymns I am not worthy Holy Lord (Irish Presbyterian Hymn Book 384) and Just as I am (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 268). The reading is from Acts ch.8 v.26-40. The service is conducted by Rev Dr David Steers.
This week we begin a new series of videos. The A to Z of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism will be an alphabetical exploration of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, looking at its identity and ethos through items and ideas possessed by its churches.
I say at the start that this will not be a succession of biographical accounts of outstanding individuals – and I will stick to that. However, that is exactly where I have to start with John Abernethy (1680-1740). It is hard to avoid him and would be a mistake to do so, he is such a remarkable and crucial figure. Among other things he was minister at Antrim (see picture at the top of this page).
The service is filmed in Ballee where John Strain plays the church’s Carnegie organ and features the hymns When morning gilds the skies (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 26) and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 158). The reading is Romans ch.14 v.5-9 which is the passage that inspired Abernethy’s famous sermon of 1719 on Religious Obedience Founded on Personal Persuasion.
This week’s service comes from Clough and makes use of the Bible presented to the Church in 1837 by the Rev David Watson. Published in Edinburgh in 1793 it is a symbol of the continuity of the congregation going back to before the split that took place into subscribing and non-subscribing congregations in the period 1829 – 1837.
We focus on the 23rd Psalm, that ancient hymn that means so much to so many people. Probably the best known portion of the Scriptures in every age. During the service church organist Alfie McClelland plays The Lord’s my Shepherd (Crimond) and The Lord my pasture shall prepare.
Today’s worship, from Ballee, incorporates the second in our series that looks at significant Non-Subscribing Presbyterians in history. Today’s subject is William Hamilton Drummond who was born in Larne in 1778 and died in Dublin in 1865.
Drummond had a long and multi-faceted career. As a young man he supported the 1798 Rebellion and as a student at Glasgow University first turned his hand to verse, producing poems that supported the aims of the United Irishman. Leaving Glasgow without a degree he nevertheless progressed towards the ministry and was called to Belfast’s Second Congregation (see picture above) in 1800. In Belfast, as a minister, he was at the heart of the city’s educational, commercial, cultural and religious life. He produced a number of epic poems. Many of these now extolled the virtues of the Union of 1801 with Great Britain whilst the most famous of all was The Giant’s Causeway, published in 1811.
In 1815 he was a candidate for the Chair of Logic and Belles Lettres at the Belfast Academical Institution. When he was unsuccessful, because so many of the electors were members of his own congregation who did not wish to see him leave, he left Belfast for Dublin instead, where he commenced a ministry of fifty years in which he achieved further notability as a theological controversialist, a biographer and a supporter of the rights of animals.
The service comes from Ballee. The reading is from Psalm 8 and is given by Mary Stewart at Downpatrick. Church organist John Strain plays the hymns Come sing praises to the Lord (Irish Presbyterian Hymnbook 113), Lord the light of your love is shining (Irish Presbyterian Hymnbook 621). Also played is Father I place into your hands.
Flow, LAGAN flow – though close thy banks of green,
Though in the picture of the world unseen…
Flow on fair stream – thy gathering waves expand,
And greet with joy the Athens of the land;
Through groves of masts thick crowding o’er thy tide,
Churches in County Down are replete with interesting ancient mausolea and tombs and this is especially true in the area around Lecale, most particularly amongst the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches, and the churchyard at Downpatrick, for instance, alone has eight or nine large tombs of different designs.
But the most celebrated Mausoleum of all is at Clough.
The Murland Mausoleum was built in about 1860 by a family who were closely connected to the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian congregation at Clough for generations. The Murland family were wealthy local mill owners, they lived at Ardnabannon and it is thought that the architect who designed their house also designed the family mausoleum. This was Thomas Turner, a Dublin-born architect who began his career as an assistant to Charles Lanyon in Belfast and who had a long and productive career designing buildings all over Ireland including Stormont Castle and Coleraine Town Hall.
But it is very clear when you look at the Murland Mausoleum that this was the work of someone steeped in the designs of classical architecture and particularly ancient funerary architecture. The inverted torch is used in Christian iconography to represent the resurrection and the eternal life of the soul. But it actually goes back to ancient Greece where it represented Thanatos the Greek god of death.
It is a very rich design.
Professor James Stevens Curl describes it as
something one might expect to find in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise or in one of the great American cemeteries, rather than in a small rural churchyard in the shadow of the Mountains of Mourne.
The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society list describes the mausoleum as ‘the phenomenal Murland vault of about 1860, furnished with all the pompe funebre of the classical manner, with trimmings.’
For local schoolchildren it is a place well-known for decades as somewhere where the bravest of them could stand near the open grill and peer in at the coffins resting in the dusty gloom.
As such an old structure the building was gradually becoming in need of restoration and to see this done the church was able to partner with the experience and expertise of the Follies Trust, a body set up in 2006 to help, in their own words, with ‘the conservation, preservation, restoration and protection, in their original setting, of mausolea and monuments; follies; grottoes; garden buildings and other structures of particular beauty or historic, environmental, architectural or industrial significance.’
At the church we were very pleased to welcome local expert Dr Finbar McCormick of Queen’s University, Belfast who gave a fascinating talk on the history and development of memorials to the dead in Ireland and beyond, looking at the influence of the Reformation and classical ideas.
This was a prelude to the work being done on the mausoleum. A number of specialists have looked at the building, and the job of restoring the structure was given to Noel Killen, noted for his work in restoring the nearby Mill at Ballydugan.
Generally, considering its great age, the building was in good shape but there was lots to be done to make the structure fully watertight and secure again for the future. Stonework that had crumbled had to be replaced. The iron work in the grills and the heavy door had to be conserved. They were also repainted in the original colour, which had largely long faded from view.
Work commenced in August 2019 and was completed within a few months. To mark the completion of this work and the collaboration that was involved we planned a special service of celebration with representatives of the Follies Trust and others, but this wasn’t to be. Like so many other plans it fell foul of the pandemic and couldn’t be held. But the important thing is that this striking and unique structure is now restored and fit to last for another 160 years.
This week our service comes from Dunmurry. We reflect on Psalm 96, recast by J.S.B. Monsell into the famous hymn O Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; Let the sea roar, and all its fullness;
Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord.
Psalm 96 v.11-12
The service is conducted by the minister in charge, Rev Dr David Steers. The reading from Psalm 96 is given by Lorraine Donaldson. Church organist Allen Yarr plays the hymns Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (Church Hymnary 22) and O Worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 18) as well as an excerpt from Music for the Royal Fireworks by G.F. Handel, all on the piano.
The Welsh poet W.H. Davies (1871-1940) lived a difficult life (described in his Autobiography of a Super-Tramp of 1908) but achieved a high level of popular appreciation for his verses during his lifetime. He is probably best known today for his poem Leisure.
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
In today’s service I make use of another of his poems, one that is, perhaps, less well-known – In May. It features in our act of worship from First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Downpatrick.
The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers and the organist is Laura Patterson. The reading is Psalm 103 and the hymns played are 10,000 Reasons, Great is thy faithfulness, and Be still for the presence of the Lord.
Our worship today comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and is the first in a new series considering significant Non-Subscribers from history.
Alexander Gordon was born in Coventry on 9th June 1841 and died in Belfast on 21st February 1931. A self-styled Englishman by birth, Scotsman by education and an Irishman by inclination Alexander Gordon was the foremost historian of religious dissent in the British Isles whose influence is still recognized today.
I’ve mentioned before the above photograph of Alexander Gordon, (click here to see the original post) the last known picture of him, arriving at Dunmurry to take the service in 1931 and this and many other images are used in the video for today’s service.
The service is recorded in Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and is conducted by the minister. The reader is Carol Nixon who reads Psalm 100 and the organist is John Strain who plays the hymns Spirit of God, unseen as the wind (Irish Presbyterian Hymn Book 478) and Fairest Lord Jesus (Irish Presbyterian Hymn Book 19). Also played at the beginning and end of the service are As the deer pants and Who is on the Lord’s side.
As well as the images connected with Alexander Gordon the film includes video of the eighteenth-century roof beams of Ballee Church constructed from Memel pine.
Over the course of a long career Gordon was minister of a number of congregations in England and Ireland and was Principal of the Unitarian College, Manchester and lecturer in Ecclesiastical History at the University of Manchester, in what was then the first free faculty of Theology in Britain. He was also a renowned historian who travelled all over Europe in the course of his work. He regularly travelled between England and Ireland, even throughout the First World War, and always travelled from wherever he was to Dunmurry in order to attend the twice yearly communion services there. He also travelled across Europe visiting record offices and archives – most notably in Poland, Hungary and Transylvania – at a time when such visits were rare and logistically difficult. This is referenced in the service. His researches, whose subject matter stretched over centuries and many areas of religious life, link us with the past and with his life. They set us in context and in time.
Time is the feather’d thing, And, whilst I praise The sparklings of thy looks and call them rays, Takes wing, Leaving behind him as he flies An unperceived dimness in thine eyes. His minutes, whilst they’re told, Do make us old; And every sand of his fleet glass, Increasing age as it doth pass, Insensibly sows wrinkles there Where flowers and roses do appear. Whilst we do speak, our fire Doth into ice expire, Flames turn to frost; And ere we can Know how our crow turns swan, Or how a silver snow Springs there where jet did grow, Our fading spring is in dull winter lost. Since then the Night hath hurl’d Darkness, Love’s shade, Over its enemy the Day, and made The world Just such a blind and shapeless thing As ’twas before light did from darkness spring, Let us employ its treasure And make shade pleasure: Let ‘s number out the hours by blisses, And count the minutes by our kisses; Let the heavens new motions feel And by our embraces wheel; And whilst we try the way By which Love doth convey Soul unto soul, And mingling so Makes them such raptures know As makes them entranced lie In mutual ecstasy, Let the harmonious spheres in music roll!